So I saw your open invite for questions on medical writing. I've seen some jobs my degree might qualify me for, but my experience is more on the limited side. I'll have a doctorate, but any medical writing experience I have is unpublished, though it was writing for medical professionals. Was it hard getting a job as a medical writer? What do you usually write and how many projects at a time? Besides applying for said jobs, how might I best break into the field or expand my experience sans job?
Regardless of the kind of medical writing you’d like to do, you’ve got to get some clips. The environment requires it. Staff journalism jobs have evaporated and in their stead, there’s fierce competition among freelancers for print space and air time. It’s a chasm between a great writer with a robust clip portfolio and a great writer with no clips.
If you’re still near a university, you might hit up the student newspaper and see if they’re willing to publish stories about new medical research or about an interesting patient. Another possibility is coming up with a good story idea, fleshing it out a bit, and THEN contacting the city editor at a small to medium-sized newspaper in your region, asking them if they’d be interested in a 500-word article. They may ask to see something before agreeing to publish it.
The kind of medical writing I do is journalistic (journalistic in style, not substance — I am in public relations). I primarily write press releases about new research at my institution, then follow up with journalists to try to convince them to write about.. what I’ve written about.
I didn’t have a hard time finding a job, but I was lucky to some extent. While I was studying biology and then journalism, I had published a few articles in two student newspapers for shits and giggles, so by the time I started looking for work I had a few dozen clips. The person who would eventually hire me had met me at a young science writers’ conference hosted by the American Chemical Society a year prior. That was the luck part. But it’s like Pasteur said — and I’m grossly paraphrasing — you prepare yourself in a way that you can be lucky.
For that reason, I strongly recommend you join a professional society and get some mentoring from someone who does the kind of medical writing you’d like to do. You may find there are more opportunities to get published when you know a few people who are doing it/are editors/producers. I’m in the NASW but there are other possibilities for you — the AMWA, for example, which also has mentorship and education programs. Both of these groups have annual meetings where you can meet people, including future colleagues and potential employers. If you can afford it, get yourself to one of these meetings. They are incredibly helpful in guiding young/new medical writers.
If you are more interested in doing professional medical writing (writing grants, ghost writing manuscripts for researchers, writing and editing academic journals, etc., the career path is different. You’ll still need clips of some sort. Send me another message if that’s the way you want to go.
"How can a company patent my genes?" I see many people asking.
Most people don’t understand what patenting a gene means. Patenting a gene limits who is able to make money from the knowledge of a gene, particularly its sequence and how it works. It doesn’t mean a company owns your genes, or that you can’t use public knowledge about your versions of the gene to do whatever tests you like on your own genes or genome. Admittedly, the vast majority of us do not have access to the technology to do genetic sequencing on ourselves, and given the importance of testing in some medical cases, as Angelina Jolie recently attested, today’s SCOTUS ruling is reasonable.
But with the ruling’s benefits also comes a cost.
The work to sequence a gene, determine its structure and function, and understand its interactions with other cellular elements can be labor intensive and expensive, and without a reward at the end of this process, there will be less of an incentive to understand complex genetic diseases.
One solution might be to increase the budget of the National Institute for General Medical Sciences for this type of work.